Nobel Week in links

Nobel Week: General
For non-Scandinavians wondering how big an event NobelPrize Day is, this Swedish TV site gives you a good idea. http://svt.se/nobel

After each year’s Peace Prize is announced, the lovely people at the Nobel Peace Center have only a few weeks to create an exhibition in time for the Laureates to open it. This year’s exhibition is called SHEROES. http://nobelpeacecenter.org/english/?did=9087488

If you haven’t seen the inspiring and humbling Nobel Peace Prize speeches, I urge you to read them. http://bit.ly/rraufF http://bit.ly/sdM1YV http://bit.ly/uWv69t

… and see the CNN interview afterwards, where the question of tokenism is dispatched pretty sharpish.  http://bit.ly/tAnbnt

Nobel Prize Ceremony opening speeches have a different theme each year. This Year’s theme was fostering creativity & innovation through education. bit.ly/sYmhUz

If you care about your daughters, don’t let them watch the Nobel Prize ceremony. http://bit.ly/sZhYJF

But if you want royal fashions during the Nobel Prize ceremony, I’ll give you royal fashions. http://bit.ly/rRn1dL All eyes were on Crown Princess Victoria, who is 6 months pregnant. http://bit.ly/sUvqWVAnd here’s some other people you won’t recognize too. http://bit.ly/suu9NO

And here’s the slacker’s guide to winning a Nobel Prize http://ow.ly/7V8IZ

Nobel Week: Laureates
Nice New York Times profile of this year’s Economics Laureates – Intellectual sparring partners for 40 yrs & now reluctant celebrities. http://nyti.ms/vxCN6E

The perennial question of how Nobel Prize winners spend their money has been answered this year by Brian Schmidt – he’s donated $100,000 to an Australian primary school science programme. http://bit.ly/va4Xml

Excellent profile of Dan Shechtman, the Chemistry Laureate who was told he was a disgrace after showing colleagues his groundbreaking quasicrystal result. http://bit.ly/ul9qQx

Charming profile of Tomas Tranströmer, which provides a taste of how popular his award of the Nobel Prize is in his home country. http://bit.ly/vmAK75

Did you know this year’s Literature Laureate is a keen entomologist & even has a beetle named after him? http://bit.ly/v49zra

This year’s Nobel Prize Banquet menu… which for some inexplicable reason is always kept a secret until the guests are seated. http://t.co/P3kAKyZj

Don’t often see this. The Wall Street Journal ran an ad from NYU Stern congratulate Thomas Sargent on his Nobel Prize. http://ow.ly/i/n6Ir

And in other news… 

Physics
Physicists offer their thoughts on whether they think the Higgs boson real, including a limerick from one Nobel Laureate. http://bit.ly/rBg2Ig

If the Higgs boson is found, then which of at least 6 possible contenders would get a Nobel Prize for it? http://natpo.st/vrwoIn

Chemistry
Excellent piece of scientific history: Scientific American defends Marie Curie—and women scientists—in 1911. http://bit.ly/szbFI4 

Literature
Sotherby’s are auctioning manuscripts by only Arab writer to win Literature Nobel Prize. Cost? A cool £50-70K. http://bit.ly/vPs4uZ

Peace
“It’s become more than a movie, it’s become a lesson in life as well.” The new Aung San Suu Kyi film premiered this week. http://nyti.ms/uZBBou

Five Peace Prize winners have called for the release of jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, arguing that the world has already begun to stop thinking about his case. http://on.wsj.com/vWRQsv

Meanwhile, China’s Nobel-naysaying alternative honours Vladimir Putin with Confucius Peace Prize. http://wapo.st/vPZXoQ

How to survive Nobel Week

Unless you have been to Stockholm, or are Scandinavian, it’s difficult to realise just how grand an affair Nobel Week is for the new Laureates. They get a rare taste of the celebrity lifestyle, with a schedule of interviews, press conferences, champagne receptions and other events to match.

So, for any budding Nobel Laureates out there, I’ve popped up on the UK’s Guardian to provide some tips on how to best survive Nobel Week.

You’ll find me speaking on their Science Weekly podcast (around 17 mins in), plus I’ve written a post on the same subject on their Science Blogs site.

Hope you enjoy them, and many thanks to Alok Jha and Jason Phipps at the Guardian for allowing me to talk about all things Nobel.

China, Norway and the continuing Peace Prize row

So far, this blog has looked at coverage of his year’s Nobel Prizes, but there’s been a notable lack of coverage for one prize that is worth highlighting here.

While news spread far and wide of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”, full marks to The Atlantic for noticing that the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, only ran a three-paragraph brief on the news. Other major Chinese sites didn’t cover the news at all (see here, here and here).

If you recall, last year’s Peace Prize went to imprisoned dissident Chinese writer and human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo. Neither Liu nor his wife, Liu Xia, were allowed to attend the prize ceremony last December in Oslo — the medal placed on an empty chair providing one of the most defining images of last year’s awards.

Any idea the Peace Prize Committee had in their Award Ceremony speech that highlighting the connection between human rights and peace would provide “a prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations, of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will” has not come to fruition. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Chinese officials blasted the Nobel committee for awarding the prize to a convicted man who they say was trying to subvert the Chinese government. The Confucius Prize was set up as a domestic-based alternative but as I noted before its future already appears to be in doubt. Though the Norwegian Nobel Committee operates independently from the government, diplomatic ties between China and Norway, which were chilly even before the announcement in 2009 (according to the published cables from WikiLeaks), have become deep frozen – trade rules over salmon being the latest episode in this saga.

Meanwhile, Liu is still in jail, serving out an 11-year sentence. Liu Xia, who had enjoyed relative freedom even after her husband was sentenced in December 2009, was placed under unofficial house arrest in Beijing shortly after the 2010 Peace Prize announcement, where she still remains.

“As far as I know, the way she is treated is unprecedented in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize,” Norwegian Nobel Committee secretary Geir Lundestad told Associated Press. “Her situation is extremely regrettable.”

The day of the 2011 Peace Prize announcement was described as an “awkward anniversary in China” by Evan Osnos on the New Yorker blog. As Osnos notes, the country’s obsession with the Nobel Prizes runs to the extent that the title of a science programme on Chinese state television a few years ago was entitled “How far are we from a Nobel Prize?

The term “China’s Nobel complex” was coined by Professor Julia Lovell to define the paradox that the country faces since re-entering the international community in the 1980s. China sees Nobel Prizes like Olympic gold medals, demonstrating global recognition as a modern world power, yet the authorities resent seeking validation from outsiders. This resentment grows to anger when the state perceives outsiders to be exploiting “Western” values to discredit their history and traditions, as was the case with the 2010 Peace Prize, and also with the 2000 Literature Prize to the dissident writer Gao Xingjian.

It’s an obsession I have experienced first-hand. As an editor at Nature Publishing Group who helped to organize a conference series in China and who visited several laboratories, the burning question almost all senior academics wanted me to answer was what would it take to have a “homegrown Nobel Prize?” (My answer, rather weak I admit, was to say that while there might be the talent, you have to create and nurture a culture and environment similar to what you would find in so-called “Nobel-worthy” institutions.) My first experience of Nobel Week in December 2007 coincided with a visiting delegation from China, with the question foremost in their minds. Nobel committee members have come under fire for accepting paid-for trips to China, though a probe by the Swedish government anti-corruption body found no evidence of bribery, concluding that the prize selection process is too complex for any individual to have a significant influence.

Despite last year’s Peace Prize, China’s Nobel obsession hasn’t dimmed, reports Osnos. Over the past few months the state press has feverishly covered anything that can be associated with the Nobel name — from headlining this year’s Lasker Award to the Chinese scientist Tu Youyou as ‘America’s Nobel’, to reporting the opening of the recent Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting on Economic Sciences. And as far as I can tell, science laureates visiting China are still treated like celebrities, with lectures packed to the rafters, unlike similar lectures in say, the US and UK.

But any thought that China might concede some ground on the Peace Prize in pursuit of their Nobel dreams in science has received a rude shock in the last few days. Last week, Norway’s foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Støre wrote some conciliatory words in a full-page commentary in Norway’s leading business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, saying that the Norwegian government has taken China’s angry reaction seriously, understands that they are upset, but hopes that moves can be made to restore relations. This olive branch offering was rejected by China yesterday; a statement from the Chinese embassy in Oslo saying that the Norwegian government “supported this wrong decision”, and that “we expect that the Norwegian side will make tangible efforts to restore and develop the bilateral relations.”

What form these “tangible efforts” could take isn’t clear. As this article notes, it could require an apology from the Norwegian government for supporting the Peace Prize, which would be an unprecedented move, or perhaps a statement of regret from the Norwegian government regarding China’s offence at Norway’s support for the prize. Whatever the outcome, it looks like China’s response to “losing face” over the Peace Prize is to push the Norwegian government towards a similar outcome.

Could the Literature Prize result have been leaked?

The Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter has an intriguing article titled “The odds indicate a leak” about the betting in the run-up to yesterday’s Literature Prize. As I mentioned yesterday there was a rush in betting for Tomas Tranströmer just before his name was read out, but I hadn’t realised his odds had plunged from 13 to 1.66.

You can see the original article in Swedish here. Many thanks to Britt Warg for bringing this article to my attention, and for providing an English translation, which you can read below. (I’ve only included the relevant excerpts.)

This could, of course, have been due to a rush of domestic bets hoping for a home-grown favourite to scoop the prize. Or not. If I hear any more I’ll update this post.

The odds indicate a leak
Published today 14:16

The odds at the betting company Ladbrokes suggests a leak of the acknowledgement that the poet Tomas Tranströmer was to be awarded this year’s Nobel prize in Literature.

The betting changed significantly this morning and Tranströmer went high. That’s unusual, says Sofia Hjärtberg, press officer at Ladbrokes in Sweden.

For the whole week, Bob Dylan has topped the list at Ladbrokes. Then, a bid for Dylan would have given six times the money.

Tomas Tranströmer, on the other hand, had not been as ‘hot’. Up until Thursday morning, he had 13[/1] as odds.
But shortly after 9am (local time), people began to suspect something was wrong.
Suddenly the bids for Tomas Tranströmer started to flood in – they were both numerous and high. In an hour’s time, the odds had gone down from 13 to 1.66. 
– We have never seen such a change, says Sofia Hjärtberg.

 

Ladbrokes have been offering betting for the Literature Prize since 2003. Three years ago, when the Frenchman Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio received the prize, the company had to close the bidding as the bids for him literary exploded just a day or so before he was awarded the price.
– We felt something was wrong so we closed down the game.
No such drastic measures this year then?
– No, this happened so quickly, so we didn’t do that. Those who put down their odds at 9am when the odds were still at 13 have made good money on this. After that time, they all went downhill quickly, says Sofia Hjärtberg

Cryptic clues spark more speculation about the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

You have to hand it to Thorbjörn Jagland, secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, he certainly knows how to get tongues wagging in advance of the Peace Prize announcement later today (11:00 CET).

The committee has courted controversy with its selections since the former prime minister of Norway became its chairman in 2009. US President Barack Obama received the prize in 2009, less than a year into his term of office. In 2010, the prize went to imprisoned Chinese writer and activist Liu Xiaobo, prompting a strident response from state authorities against Norway.

In an interview with Associated Press on Wednesday, Jagland drops some cryptic clues about this year’s Peace Prize recipient, He is quoted as saying:

“The most positive development will get the prize. So I’m a little bit surprised that it has not been already seen by many commentators and experts and all this because for me it’s obvious.”

So who have people listed as being in line for this year’s prize? I’ve blogged about this before, but The Guardian has a good rundown of the hopefuls. including Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, the Russian human rights group Memorial, Egyptian Google executive Wael Ghonim, former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Ten years to the day that US-led troops went into Afganistan, Sima Samar, the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, would be a timely award.

So-called “leading Nobel-guesser” Kristian Berg Harpviken, the director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, says his top picks are Egyptian activists Israa Abdel Fattah, Ahmed Maher and the April 6 Youth Movement, a pro-democracy Facebook group they co-founded in 2008.

Fanning the flames of speculation further, Jagland told the Norwegian newspaper VG on Thursday that this year’s recipient “is involved with something that has been important to me my whole life.” Could it be the European Union, then? Even though Norway is not a member, Jagland is a strong supporter of the EU, and in 1990, he wrote “My European Dream”, a book about European unity after the collapse of the Iron Curtain.

Two more Jagland quotes from Wednesday’s AP interview tease further. He said the prize would go to:

“Not necessarily a big name, but a big mission — something important for the world.”

followed by:

“For me and the committee, I think it’s quite obvious if you look at the world today and see what is happening out there. What are the major forces pushing the world in the right direction?”

An LA Times article throws up an interesting potential candidate, which if you look beyond the sensationalist headline, could satisfy Jagland’s cryptic clues. It asks: “Could he be referring to a Web platform that allows users to connect around the world?”

The (fake and the real) 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature

It wasn’t to be Bob Dylan’s day, I’m afraid. But the 11th hour surge in betting for Tomas Tranströmer was right on the money. At 13:00 CET Peter Englund, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy announced that the Nobel Prize in Literature 2011 is awarded to the Swedish writer and poet “because, through his condensed, transluscent images, he gives us fresh access to reality”.

However, 15-30 mins before the announcement, news filtered through Twitter that the Serbian author Dobrica Cosic had received the prize. The reason? A hoax site had been set up.

The first tell-tale sign that this was a hoax was the url (http://www.nobelprizeliterature.org/ as opposed to http://www.nobelprize.org/) The second, the lack of a formal citation from the awarding committee. The twittersphere helped me to trace the origin of the site.

Martin Eve tells me he is looking into this further and will post anything he finds on his own blog. I’ll keep you updated too.

UPDATE: Martin has posted a full tech report of the hoax site here.

Predictions for the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Another day, another Nobel Prize announcement. Today it’s the turn of the Chemistry Prize. The announcement will be made in under two hours, at 11:45 CET, and as always you can see the live announcement webcast on Nobelprize.org.

So, who could be in the running this year. Well, when it comes to chemistry predictions, most eyes turn to Paul Bracher and his ChemBark blog. With organic chemistry getting the prize last year, and structural biology the year before, Bracher’s favourites are Richard Zare and WE Moerner for developing laser-based and single-molecule spectroscopy techniques (see Zare’s Wolf Prize citation here and Moerner’s here), and Pierre Chambon, Ronald Evans and Elwood Jensen for the discovery of nuclear hormone receptors (you can see their 2004 Lasker Prize citation here).

Karin Bojs at the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter agrees with the Zare & Moerner prediction, but adds Arthur Horwich and Franz-Ulrich Hartl to her list for their work on protein-folding mechanisms, and also picks DNA sequencing technology, with Eugene Myers, Craig Venter and Leroy Hood as her choice of likely candidates. Ash Jogalekar at Curious Waveform, has some of the candidates above on his list, but also mentions Stuart Schrieber and Peter Schultz for chemical biology and chemical genetics.

Thomson Reuters, meanwhile, as I previously posted have a different list of candidates: Allen Bard for “the development and application of scanning electrochemical microscopy; Jean Fréchet, Donald Tomalia, and Fritz Vögtle for “the invention and development of dendritic polymers; and Martin Karplus for pioneering simulations of the molecular dynamics of biomolecules.

Will it be an organic chemistry prize, an analytical chemistry prize, or another biology-related prize to upset the purists? I’ll post a rundown of the initial reactions as soon as I can after the announcement.